by Jennifer Minor, Heartbeat Editor/Writer
I didn’t really think a lot about my body growing up—unless it was to lament that I wasn’t as pretty as someone else, but that’s another story. Later, I came to see that most people thought about their bodies in one of two ways: as something like a cage for the soul full of temptation or as nothing more than a tool to make them feel good.
When I did start thinking this way, as a good Catholic girl, I went with the first. Yes, my body is a “Temple of the Holy Spirit,” but it’s also a stumbling block on the way to Heaven, right? Yes, it’s “fearfully and wonderfully made,” but that’s more about ME than just my body.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I was first introduced to Pope St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.” Discovering that changed everything.
The basic concept is simple. John Paul II spent about five of his years as Pope sharing his reflections on the creation story in Genesis, which just goes to show you there’s always more to scripture. These short reflections that he shared were eventually gathered together under the title Theology of the Body—and widely ignored for about 20 years.
Fortunately for me, “Theology of the Body” is currently all the rage in the Catholic Church, so I got introduced to the concept about eight years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
In the reading that I’ve done, the talks that I’ve attended, and the homilies I’ve heard on the subject, I’ve been reminded of many things that are often simply overlooked by Christians with “body as cage for the soul” mentality.
The “resurrection of the body” is an explicitly stated belief in the Apostle’s Creed. Jesus, after His resurrection, still has a body and can eat and drink, but it isn’t bound by space or time in the same way we are now, and his followers don’t recognize Him immediately in it. It’s been glorified.
Our bodies matter! And more than that, our bodies are a symbol of our whole selves. My body is a reflection of myself, and I am made in the image and likeness of God.
Knowing this, how could I continue to act as if my body didn’t matter? Or worse, as if it was merely a cage or stumbling block to living a holy life?
No. The way I express myself with my body means so much more than that. The way I dress can tell the people around me how much I respect myself. The way I care for my body—exercising, eating well, getting stronger—is as important as the way I care for my spiritual life—regular prayer, time with God, and practicing silence.
And of course, this means that my body can’t be nothing more than a tool to make me feel good. It’s no mere object for pleasure; if I make it that for any reason, I’m doing myself and everyone involved a great disservice.
I’m grateful to be a woman, and I know that my body is made to be able to bring life into the world. That is an incredible thing!
It’s extremely empowering to know that your body is built to create and sustain life.
But when I look around me, I see that my peers don’t see themselves that way. Their fertility to them is an obstacle, a prohibition against some kind of free expression of their sexuality. But then again, was my perspective so different when I saw my body as only a cage and a temptation?
Falling into thinking of ourselves as only body or only spirit doesn’t work.
I’m living best, and acknowledging the best in others when I remember that human beings are body AND soul. Both have eternal significance, and for me, “Theology of the Body” helped me discover that essential truth, and change the way I think about—and treat—my body.
For more information on the Theology of the Body, check out Fr. Joel’s recorded workshop from the 2018 Heartbeat International Annual Conference How “Theology of the Body” Helps Us Today. You may also be interested in Pia de Solenni’s keynote from the same Conference.